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ERIC Number: EJ860227
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2008-Feb
Pages: 4
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: ISSN-0031-921X
Using a Meniscus to Teach Uncertainty in Measurement
Backman, Philip
Physics Teacher, v46 n2 p100-103 Feb 2008
I have found that students easily understand that a measurement cannot be exact, but they often seem to lack an understanding of why it is important to know "something" about the magnitude of the uncertainty. This tends to promote an attitude that almost any uncertainty value will do. Such indifference may exist because once an uncertainty is determined or calculated, it remains as only a number without a concrete physical connection back to the experiment. For the activity described here--presented as a challenge--groups of students are given a container and asked to make certain measurements and to estimate the uncertainty in each of those measurements. They are then challenged to complete a particular task involving the container and a volume of water. Whether the assigned task is actually achievable, however, slowly comes into question once the magnitude of the uncertainties in the original measurements is compared to the specific requirements of the challenge.
American Association of Physics Teachers. One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740. Tel: 301-209-3300; Fax: 301-209-0845; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A